Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Texas: Education board tackles issue of religion in textbooks

Religion, in the founding and evolution of America, has taken the leading role in a new drama playing at the State Board of Education, as educators and elected officials edit new scripts for Texas school children. SBOE board members will decide just how big a leading role religion will play in textbooks for Texas public schools. "The expert reports and proposals put inaccurate and artificial weight on religious influences on our nation's founding," law and history professor Steven Green said. Green is also director of the Willamette Center for Religion at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

The Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the religious right, was joined by clergy and scholars Tuesday in advance of the board's preliminary vote on curriculum changes. The groups hope the lines of separation of church and state won't be blurred.

Recommendations made by some of the board-appointed reviewers in 2009 include more emphasis on documents like the Mayflower Compact of 1620, which was written by Christian pilgrims, and faith beliefs of the founding fathers. "They suggested we teach students George Washington was saved by a divine miracle in battle, which is a perfectly appropriate faith belief, but not appropriate in public school classrooms," Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, said.

The conservative organization Liberty Legal Institute argues its point from under the umbrella of censorship. "If you want to teach accurate social studies, teach students the real information, you shouldn't allow censorship of the faith of the founding fathers just because some people aren't comfortable with it," Jonathan Saenz, with Liberty Legal Institute, said. Saenz said the so-called Austin liberals attacking the reviewers are desperate for change and want to rewrite or distort history.

The history, which students will learn in future years ,is now essentially left up to the board to decide which key historical figures and events make the final cut. More than 100 people are signed up to speak at Wednesday's public hearing before the board in Austin. The board could then vote on preliminary changes this week. A final vote is expected in March.


Spending cuts 'could force more than 30 British universities to close'

More than 30 universities could be forced to close amid “terrifying” Government spending cuts of up to £2.5 billion, leaders of Britain’s top institutions warned yesterday. Representatives from the Russell Group, which comprises 20 leading universities, say the cuts risk destroying 800 years of progress in British higher education.

The fallout from the financial restraints could hamper Britain’s ability to claw out of the recession, according to Wendy Piatt, the Russell Group’s director general, and Michael Arthur, its chairman. They warned that urgent action was needed to save dozens of historic institutions from “meltdown” which threatened to undermine the country’s international competitiveness.

Dr Piatt and Prof Arthur said: “Irrespective of who will bear most of the pain, all universities are really going to suffer. Wherever the axe falls, it’s a really quite terrifying prospect. “Having got to a position where we are just getting our head above the water, really punching above our weight in terms of our ability to cope internationally … it seems as if we are sliding backwards very quickly. “We don’t see how, with the size and the magnitude of these budget restraints, we are going to return to that position. “Such huge cuts in university budgets would have a devastating effect not only on students and staff, but also on Britain's international competitiveness, economy and ability to recover from recession.”

Writing in a newspaper, Dr Piatt and Prof Arthur added: “Reports suggest that as many as 30 universities may not survive in their current form if even minimal funding cuts are introduced. “We would go further than [that] bleak assessment. This is a defining moment. If politicians don't act now, they will be faced with meltdown in a sector that is vital to our national prosperity. “It has taken more than 800 years to create one of the world's greatest education systems, and it looks like it will take just six months to bring it to its knees."

Their attack comes after Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, who oversees higher education, last month told universities they faced a £135 million cut in funding next year. That came on top of £180 million of cuts unveiled last year by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and a further £600 million of longer efficiency savings to be made from 2012.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that additional cuts of 12.3 per cent over 2011 and 2012 are needed if the Government is to achieve its target of halving the national debt by 2013. This would mean another £1.6 billion of cuts for the science and higher education budgets, bringing the total to £2.5 billion – equivalent to a third of the current annual spend on higher education.

Prof Arthur said: “If that occurs then it will lead to closures of universities, closures of courses and that inevitably means that we will not be able to offer the same number of places that we currently offer."

Steve Smith, president of Universities UK, which represents the higher education sector, said this month that cuts of 30 per cent to universities' budgets would force academic institutions to take “drastic measures”, slashing the number of courses, students and staff.

A reduction in the number of courses would mean thousands of students could miss out on the opportunity to attend university. It would be a major blow to the government’s pledge to ensure that 50 per cent of school leavers go on to higher education – a central plank of Labour's education policy. The Daily Telegraph disclosed last week that thousands of teenagers will be rejected by 19 of the country’s top 20 universities who have toughened entry criteria to restrict numbers in the wake of the cuts.

The Russell Group includes Cambridge – which celebrated its 800th anniversary last year – as well as Oxford and Bristol among others.


One British pupil in five fails to graduate High School

One in five teenagers finishes school without gaining a single C grade GCSE or higher, official figures are expected to reveal today. National results are also predicted to show that just half of teenagers finish compulsory schooling with even a basic set of GCSE qualifications. Around 300,000 pupils who went through their entire education under Labour failed to meet the Government's benchmark for secondary school achievement - five GCSEs at C grade or higher including English and maths.

The figures will be published alongside national league tables which list the GCSE results of every state and independent school in the country. Provisional figures published late last year indicate that only half of pupils achieved the desired five A* to C-grade GCSEs including English and maths last year. This leaves ministers with a struggle to hit a Treasury target of 53 per cent by 2011. Almost one in five pupils completed compulsory education without achieving a single C grade or higher in any subject.

Today's figures are also expected to show how a quarter of a million children are being taught in schools Gordon Brown has threatened with closure because of substandard GCSE results.

Speaking at the weekend, Schools Minister Vernon Coaker admitted around one in 12 secondaries still 'falls short' of the Government's GCSE achievement benchmark. But he insisted 'many of those 270 are firmly on the right trajectory'. Under a 'National Challenge' programme launched by Mr Brown, the schools face closure unless they reach a 'floor target' for minimum expected performance by 2011. They must ensure at least 30 per cent of pupils pass five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C.

Under the scheme, schools are given extra help and monitoring - sometimes including conversion into academies - to ensure they meet the deadline. But around 270 schools which are still below the target teach just over 250,000 children between them.

At A-level, the figures are expected to show a widening gulf between private and state schools, with fee-paying pupils four times more likely to get three straight As at A-level. Shadow Children's Secretary Michael Gove revealed last week that more boys at Eton achieved three straight As than boys at any school whose parents are on benefits.

David Laws, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said the figures were 'completely unacceptable in a rich country such as Britain'. He added: 'Instead of more daft gimmicks and initiatives from Ed Balls and Gordon Brown, we need action to reduce class sizes and improve school leadership.'

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: 'It's important to put these figures into context. 'Twelve years ago a third of pupils were getting five good GCSEs with English and maths, it's now half of pupils and rising every year. 'And where half of secondary schools would have been considered under-performing by today's high bench mark, it's now just one in 12 and on target to be none by next year.'


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